It is commonly known that pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery cause a lot of physical changes to the body. Posture, for example, often changes and affects overall core health. Pelvic floor dysfunction is another issue that can arise as a result of the hormonal changes, increased demand, and physical work associated with pregnancy and birth. Some of these changes are discussed openly, while others remain undisclosed.
One issue, known as Vaginal Varicose Veins, is not well understood or discussed openly among women. So I thought I would take this opportunity to share some insights into this condition, as well as, suggest natural methods of treatment and management.
What are Vaginal Varicose Veins?
Vaginal varicose veins (alternatively known as vulvar varicosities) occur in approximately 10% of pregnant women, and most often arise during the second trimester (i.e., around 20 weeks). They appear as soft, enlarged blood vessels along the labia majora or minora and are often bluish in colour. Like other varicose veins, they are stretched and/or weakened blood vessels that can cause congestion in the circulatory system.
Vulvar varicosities tend to be hereditary and can get worse with multiple pregnancies. Sometimes they are caused by altered levels of estrogen and progesterone in the system, which can cause the muscles in venous walls to relax and stretch. Other causes include previous traumatic labours, extended push phases of labour, and a heavier uterus during pregnancy that increases pressure on the veins in the pelvic region.
Symptoms of vaginal varicose veins include pain, itchiness, discomfort, and heaviness in the labia while walking, sitting, or during intercourse. They can also present as a deep, dull ache in the vulva. Most often vulvar varicosities will disappear on their own within 6-8 weeks postpartum, however, some women suffer for years after delivery.
Natural Methods of Treatment
Compression / Support
By applying direct compression and support, we can prevent swelling of the vaginal veins. These supports may also help improve blood flow throughout the pelvis and prevent pooling. Some products that apply this type of support include compression therapy groin bands, the V2 Supporter, and maternity belts, which help to offload the belly during pregnancy and prevent varicosities.
A Witch Hazel Compress can be used in the early postpartum period to facilitate healing of the vulva. It is made by soaking a pad in Witch Hazel, freezing it, and then applying it to the vulva to wear throughout the day. These compresses can also be made by soaking a cotton pad and wearing it for 10-15 minutes daily, without freezing it.
Some acupuncture points in the lower abdomen and pelvic regions can facilitate healthy blood flow around and through the pelvic floor, while other points in the head can help decrease pressure on the pelvic region. Be sure to consult a qualified Acupuncturist before using this modality during pregnancy.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy
Okay, so I may be a little biased here but pelvic floor physiotherapy is one of my number one recommendations for preventing vaginal varicose veins. By helping to promote good core and pelvic girdle positioning, we can actually reduce pelvic vein congestion, normalize pressure throughout each body cavity, and learn to breathe in a way that optimizes blood flow.
In my practice, I often focus on re-establishing deep core synergy through simple breathing exercises during the prenatal period. After delivery, we will then revisit these exercises and add layers of more challenging muscle work to them. Balancing the core can help provide significant relief and improvements in vein strength and laxity.
Under the guidance of a licensed physiotherapist, daily pelvic floor exercises can help to normalize pressure in the pelvic floor region, increase circulation throughout pelvic girdle veins, and prevent constipation and congestion. Some lovely exercises include:
- Legs on a Wall – Lay on the floor and bring your legs up onto the wall. Allow yourself to rest in this position for a few minutes while gravity helps to increase circulation throughout the pelvis. You can also gently move each leg in a clock-like motion for added benefits.
- Calves on a Stool – Lay on the floor and bring your legs up onto an ottoman or stool. Place a small pillow or towel roll under your sacrum and begin taking deep and gentle breaths. Gradually add pelvic tilts to your breathing and continue for a few minutes, daily.
Basic DOs / DON’Ts in Vaginal Varicose Vein Care
- Eat foods that can increase constipation (i.e., highly processed foods, sugars, saturated fats)
- Strain on the toilet; straining and constipation can increase the amount of pressure placed on the varicosities
- Drink excessive amounts of alcohol or coffee
- Sit for long periods of time
- Eat enough fibre to help soften stool
- Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of water
- Participate in exercises as instructed by your pelvic floor physiotherapist
- Try other natural methods of treatment
- Periodically rise from a sitting position to ensure that you are increasing circulation throughout your body
- Periodically lie down with your feet elevated
There you have it! If you have any specific questions about your health needs or would like to book an appointment, please feel free to contact us here at Lumira… we’d love to hear from you!
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